Category Archives: cat

On this page:
  • Drawing update
  • Lion cut
  • Raspberry Pi LitterBox Cam and quantified cats
  • Slice of life: Meowrnings
  • Taking up hobbies again: photography and gardening
  • Decision review: Cat boarding

Drawing update

It’s funny how I drop interests and pick them up again. Based on my sketchbook, there was a roughly two-month period when I did hardly any drawing. Then I had some planning to do that lent itself naturally to being mapped out, and then I ended up drawing a whole bunch, and now I’m reeled back in and looking forward to playing around with this more.

2014-08-13 Learning more about drawing - #drawing

2014-08-13 Learning more about drawing – #drawing

Like so! I took a picture of Leia (who has grown out most of the lion cut we subjected her to), traced an outline in pencil, and experimented with inking and shading it in on my computer. I still have a long way to go before I can do this easily, but I like the way that tracing helps me deliberately practise seeing simple shapes. Likewise, penciling on paper or on my computer (without tracing an image) lets me play with the shape of something until it feels right. As I trace and draw, I’ll get a better sense of how things really look–and the forms beneath those lines.

2014-08-15 Luke, also traced from a picture

2014-08-15 Luke, also traced from a picture

2014-08-13 Leia traced from picture

2014-08-13 Leia traced from picture

2014-08-17 Neko, from picture

2014-08-17 Neko, from picture

Lion cut

From Sunday: We’d neglected brushing Leia’s coat until there were mats that were difficult to work out. I tried to comb them out with a dematter or snip them out with scissors, but there was only so much Leia would tolerate. So plan B: shave it all off!

2014-04-13 Lion cut

2014-04-13 Lion cut

We had been thinking about it for a few months, but we figured she probably wanted to keep her fur during winter. With warm weather on the horizon and the mats getting thicker, it was time. W- and I didn’t know what to expect. We looked up pictures of lion cuts on cats (hilarious!), watched videos (of which there are plenty on the Internet, which exists primarily for the dissemination of all things cat-related), and read forum posts (for example: my cat is shaved & depressed).

Then we took Leia to her first appointment with a cat groomer. Leia wasn’t too happy during the process. The groomer had to use the Cone of Don’t Bite Me. There was a lot of… err… expressiveness.

She cheered up all right afterwards, though. We made sure to reassure her with lots of cuddles, although it took us a good few hours before we could resist the urge to chortle whenever we looked at her.

Actually, no, still happens. <giggle> She’s tinier than I expected! I always thought she was the same size as Luke, but it turns out that was all hair. She’s actually the same size as Neko. Maybe even smaller. Boggle. And her head is so big! And she’s wearing boots!

Yep, should totally do this every year.

Raspberry Pi LitterBox Cam and quantified cats

We have three cats. One of our cats occasionally poops outside the litter box. We had our suspicions, but we couldn’t pin down who or why. Territorial issues? Finickiness about box hygiene? Sickness? Fear or surprise? What could we do to reduce the frequency of incidents?

We decided that a litter box webcam was an excellent first project for the Raspberry Pi computer that W- just bought. The Pi is a tiny, quiet, inexpensive Linux server. My webcam worked without hassles, and Motion was easy to set up for motion detection. We set it up to capture videos when the computer detected motion. I watched the videos and encoded the data, tracking which cat and which litter box. I figured that exploring this would be a good excuse to work with the Pi and learn a little more about computer vision.

2014-03-24 Litter Box Cam with Raspberry Pi #raspberry #cats

2014-03-24 Litter Box Cam with Raspberry Pi #raspberry #cats

You might think that watching litter box videos would be boring and somewhat icky. It was surprisingly informative. I had no idea that Luke sniffed so many litter boxes before settling on one. Leia usually checked out one or two boxes before doing her thing, but if all the other boxes were used (even if one of them was used only by her), she sniffed everything and then circled around in indecision before finally pooping in the middle of the basement floor. (Watching her try everything made me feel somewhat better.) The two cats cover, but Neko never does. (Territorial dominance marker by the smallest cat?)

We collected a week of baseline data, which showed that box 1 was twice as popular as box 4 and 5. W- hypothesized that it was because box 4 and box 5 were near the furnace, and the strange noises from the furnace might startle the cats occasionally. Leia pooped outside the box twice, both times sniffing all the boxes before going in the middle.

We took to calling Leia our little data-generator.

2014-03-29 Litterbox analysis #quantified

2014-03-29 Litterbox analysis #quantified

Since the cats often left a little bit of extra food in their bowls and the vet had suggested they needed less food or more exercise, we decided to try reducing the amount of food we gave them. That change seems to be going well.

We also moved box 5 closer to box 1. That led to box 5 being much more popular than it used to be, which was a pleasant surprise. If Leia likes box 5 a lot more now that it’s away from the furnace, maybe it’ll be easier for her to find a clean box to poop in.

Preliminary cat litter box results

Preliminary cat litter box results

We set the camera up to capture 2 frames per second in order to save space. Watching it in real-time eventually lost its novelty, so I looked up how to speed up the AVIs.

for FILE in video-*.avi; do
  if [ ! -f "fast-$FILE" ]; then
    ffmpeg -i $FILE -vf "setpts=0.10*PTS" -r 30 fast-$FILE
  fi
done

I also started looking into how to use SimpleCV for computer vision and image processing. I had a hard time getting SimpleCV set up in my Ubuntu virtual machine, but the Windows version worked fine after a lengthy install process on my computer. After much learning, I figured out how to identify changed areas, get the largest share over a certain area threshold, find the centroid of that shape, and plot it back on the image. The real challenge is figuring out some kind of visual output that makes sense to me when I look at it. The image below is a step in the right direction, but it’s still not quite what I need.

summary-113-20140329224621-00

The Raspberry Pi camera module arrived, so we swapped that in and eventually got everything working again after some SD/power-related grumbling.

It would be great if I could get Python to automatically figure out which cat is in the video, distinguishing between multiple cats and flagging it for manual review if the motion detection got confused. Even better if it can track the path that the cats take!

On the other hand, the speeded-up AVIs are now fast enough that the bottleneck isn’t waiting for the video to play, it’s me typing in the description of the path (since I track not only the litter box they use, but any other litter boxes they check along the way). Maybe this is fine.

While watching me encode data, W- said, “Isn’t this something you can have your assistants do?” It’s data entry, sure, but I feel embarrassed about assigning people to watch our cats poop. <laugh> Besides, I’m learning a lot from the encoding process. We’ll probably treat it as a time-limited experiment.

Pretty cool! =) Next steps: Collect more data, try more experimental changes, learn more about image processing…

Anticipated questions/responses:

  • That’s so geeky. You’re weird. Yup.
  • You have too much time on your hands. I like spending my time learning things, and getting better at computer vision and data analysis will come in handy. =) Better than watching TV or reading forgettable things. (See also: Too much time on her hands)
  • Just get a self-cleaning litter box. We got a Litter Robot because that was the best-reviewed of the self-cleaning litter boxes, but only Neko likes using it. We’re not into fancy litter boxes that require cartridges or special litter. It’s hard to tell if Leia will take to a new automated litter box, and returns/refunds for used litter boxes would be a bit weird. We can probably figure out something that works with our current setup, or maybe with an additional regular litter box. We still need to clean daily anyway, so it makes sense to try low-cost approaches first.
  • How about tracking both input and output? Too much work at the moment, and not enough interest in the data. (Weigh the food bowls? Weigh the boxes? Distinguish between cats?)
  • What about rigging up an automated water sprayer / Nerf gun to fire when cats poo outside the litter box? That will just make them poop outside the furnace room. It’s much easier to clean the furnace room than the carpet, so if they’re going to poop outside the litter box, that’s as good a place as any. We don’t want them to get any negative associations.

Slice of life: Meowrnings

Almost every morning, we can count on being meowed awake by our cats. They seem to do this in shifts so that only one cat is meowing at a time. They don’t really have a snooze button or a time sitting, but they seem to pause for a little bit if you meow back or fully close the door.

imageThis is one of our cats, Neko. (Yes, I have a cat named “cat” in Japanese.) She’s usually the early morning meower. We’ve been trying to figure out why she meows. So far, we’ve determined that:

  • it’s not about breakfast, since there’s plenty of food,
  • it’s not about water, since she has that too,
  • it’s not about being able to drink from the bathroom faucet, since she doesn’t always do that even when I offer, and
  • it’s not about not having company, because she still meows me awake even if W- is up and about.

My current hypothesis is that Neko is checking if I’m still there, since she doesn’t meow W- awake if I’m already up. It seems to match experimental observations. She’s only temporarily satisfied by voice; she insists on seeing me. She doesn’t cuddle or anything, just walks downstairs with me and goes about her usual cat life.

I raised her myself (hello, 2AM and 6AM soy milk feedings!), but when I moved into the dorm for university, I saw her only on weekends. And then there was that six-month span when I was in Japan, and four years (four!) when I was in Canada. Whenever I was home, Neko took to sleeping on top of me, probably to make sure I didn’t go anywhere without her knowledge. (Then she would bite my ankles at 5 AM so that I could let her out of the room to do her business.) My mom says that even though Neko avoided her most of the time (my mom’s not a cat person), Neko would cuddle up with her whenever I left on my trips.

Leia is usually the next one to meow. She usually meows if our door is left open a crack (for circulation), but closing the door often helps. Leia just wants to be picked up and cuddled. (She usually sticks around in the bathroom, meowing, until I get the message.) Luke is the meower of last resort. I think he meows because he wants someone to play with and sometimes the other two cats won’t give him the time of day. (Luke is usually the only cat at our door when he’s the one meowing, while we often wake up to all three cats waiting if it’s Neko meowing.)

I try to avoid anthropomorphizing the cats too much, but it’s fun to speculate at what goes on in their head, especially if you can test the hypotheses. =)

Neko is about ten years old now, and the other cats are four years old. The Internet says that indoor cats tend to live between 13 and 17 years. There will come a time when our mornings are quiet. In the meantime, I can appreciate the racket; our cats and their quirks.

One of the tricks I picked up from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy is that of negative visualization: imagining loss in order to enjoy a deeper appreciation of what you have. I practise it frequently. Not so much that I dwell on it, but enough to sharpen my enjoyment of life and be ready for the inevitable sadness. There will most likely come a quiet morning, maybe years from now, when I’ll look back at this sketch and and trace the outline of a memory. I practise imagining loss with pets, with friends, with family, with W-. Emotional exercise.

Sometimes I’m up earlier than I’d like, but the cats are worth it.

Taking up hobbies again: photography and gardening

The stereotype of an entrepreneur is someone who obsesses about business at all hours of the day. It’s good for me to be able to relax and enjoy hobbies, though. It preserves that feeling of an abundance of time, which makes it easier and less stressful to make good decisions and to keep my values in mind. Hobbies also give me a way to refresh myself.

This is a picture I took at sunset in High Park. I like the muted colours and the blurriness of the sun just visible through the trees in the distance.

Many houses are slated for demolition along Bloor Street, to be replaced by a tall condominium building that spans the entire block. I took the picture on the left because the hole in the window looked like a cat sitting on the sill and looking out, as cats often do. On the right, you can see a tree fort behind the construction fence.

Ah, cats. =)

Not much in the garden to take pictures of yet, but maybe the seeds I planted will germinate soon. This year, we’re looking forward to growing more bitter melons (ampalaya), basil, snow peas, lettuce, spinach, blueberries, and nasturtiums. (Edible gardens for the win!)

It’s a quiet weekend, my favourite kind.

Decision review: Cat boarding

We were going to be away for a week and a half, so we needed to make plans for our three cats. In the past, J- had done a little cat-sitting for us. I’d also asked a friend before, but that was for a weekend. With our cats occasionally throwing up or pooing outside the litter box when they’re upset, I didn’t want to inflict that on friends, even if I was happy to pay market rates. We wanted to make sure the cats were watched over and played with during the day, so we decided to give cat boarding a try.

Boarding cats is more expensive than hiring a cat sitter. We felt anxious about having someone else come into our house while we’re away, though, so we considered the difference a worthwhile premium for peace of mind – no litterbox accidents or throw-ups to worry about, and no worrying about stuff missing either. We also liked the ability to specify instructions like feeding Neko small, frequent meals – if you give her a lot of food in one go, she sometimes rushes and then throws up.

There was a small risk that the cats would pick up colds, ticks, or fleas from other cats, but we decided we could deal with that.

After calling up a few cat boarding places, we settled on Lonesome Kitty, a nearby cat boarding place. I checked out the location, and it seemed fine. The resident cats looked bright and alert, and none of them were obviously scratching themselves. We decided that it would be better to board there than with a veterinarian because vet offices tend to be busy (and occasionally full of sick animals!), so we e-mailed our confirmation. On the day before our flight, we dropped the cats off along with enough cat food for their stay.

After we got back, Luke and Leia sought attention more often than usual, and Neko had a cold. (The poor dear.) The cats were okay, though, and life returned to normal a week or so after we got back.

The cost of boarding three cats worked out to around $32 per day. A cat sitter would have cost around $23 per day. Lonesome Kitty has since then raised its prices to $36 for three cats / day.

2011-09-25 Sun 09:06